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 Featured Question - August 18, 2003

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How do I know if my board is ready to adopt Policy Governance?


You will probably get a better answer if you turn the question around, by making it "how do I know if my board is 'not' ready to adopt Policy Governance?  It is difficult to know if the board is ready, but it is not very difficult  to know when they are not ready. Here are some indicators for when it is not time to adopt Policy Governance. 

  • The board feels that the executive has an unacceptable level of performance.
  • The executive thinks that Policy Governance is a way to get the board off his or her back.
  • The board has a low level of commitment to governing, shown in poor board attendance, lack of preparation, or time expended to social activities to the detriment of governing responsibilities. 
  • There is political infighting within the board.
  • Control on the board is maintained within a small group who is unwilling to share their control.

Think of these as limitations for adopting Policy Governance.  If these conditions don't exist, working to adopt Policy Governance is likely to have a positive effect on a board. 

What may be disconcerting about this list is that these are conditions that Policy Governance should minimize.  The dilemma is that when they already exist, it is difficult, if not impossible to move to the model, and in some cases the model simply becomes a tool to maintain the status quo instead of becoming a new group approach to governance.  For example when a small group of members is in control of the board, Policy Governance may simply allow them to have an even tighter reign.  Although, it is likely that this small group will be violating a number of Policy Governance principles, it is also very unlikely that any of the board members will bring it to their attention.  However, this doesn't mean that education about the model is inappropriate if these previous conditions exist.  Knowledge is helpful at anytime. 

The next question may be what does a board do that finds itself in one of these conditions.  The best thing is to directly address the problem rather than trying to get Policy Governance or some other technique to address it in a more subtle way.  For example if the executive isn't performing at an acceptable level, the board and executive should be in some pretty deep discussions until it is worked out.  If the executive feels that the board is on his or her back, that should be a discussion.  Adopting Policy Governance wont make these things go away.  Instead it is likely to magnify them. 

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